Despite some early travel delays, 33 eighth-grade Danish students from Solvang’s sister city of Aalborg arrived in the city on Sunday night and spent the week touring the Central Coast.


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Their Song for friendship ’cross the seas featured lyrics that expressed the students’ desire to learn about the culture and past of the U.S., California and Solvang. They sang:

“Like the old Vikings

Vikings from Denmark

Exploring we come cross the seas”

and

“Let’s share our cultures

Be ambassadors

And bring the world closer today”

After the students finished their song, they were assigned a buddy from Solvang School and attended class with them. Jutta Aichinger is a parent organizer in Solvang. She said her son had gone to Germany as an exchange student and she was happy to have the Danish students here. “I love the exchange idea,” she said. She said Solvang has never had an exchange program on this scale.

Tom Laursen, the trip’s coordinator from Denmark, said it had been in the works for more than a year. It was part of “friendship projects” between Solvang and its sister city, he said. Laursen spoke about the adventure being an “outstanding chance” for his students to have exposure to a different lifestyle.

He said the eighth-graders had spent a good deal of this school year preparing for their visit. “There were lots of lessons about America and California across all topics last year. History, geography, biology, English and even math,” he said.

According to Laursen, Aalborg is a city of about 150,000 with a diverse mix of people. He said the trip gave the students a chance to experience things they might never experience at home. He said some – especially those from lower class families or refugees from Africa – rarely had the opportunity to leave Aalborg, so the trip was very meaningful to them.

He said an education outside of the classroom was important for the students. “Going out is worth much more, because some students learn but don’t really know about their world.”

Laursen said they were enjoying the tour of California and hoped Solvang students would get the chance to visit Aalborg on an exchange of their own. He said his school was excited to repay the hospitality they were shown here.

After the students finished morning classes at Solvang School, they got a chance to walk around Solvang on their way to the Elverhøj Museum. They were anxious to learn about the Danes who founded Solvang and to learn what drove them far from their homes into the Santa Ynez Valley.

They gathered in the museum’s gallery to take in the history of the town through the Spirit of Solvang exhibit’s many photographs. Esther Jacobson Bates gave them a brief history of the town, telling of the educators from Iowa who moved to the Valley seeking to build a school and find good farm land.

The students listened quietly and then spent time wandering around the gallery, taking in the photography from another era. Fourteen-year-old Maryam Alhage said she enjoyed her time in Solvang: “It’s Danish,” then she paused and added, “more Danish than Denmark!” pointing to the profuse display of heritage and flags around the city. “Kind of like a fairytale,” she said. Her classmate Frederick Vinde agreed, “This town is really pretty, they’ve really created another Denmark.”

He said when they got off the airplane in San Francisco, he could hardly believe it was real. Alhage said she loved the mountains, noting that Denmark was “absolutely flat.” She said, “I am very excited; it’s like being in a movie.”

The students planned to spend the rest of the week seeing the Central Coast before making the long journey home.

brookshire@syvjournal.com